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Like a Kid in a Candy Shop
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Mar 28, 2017
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Goldeneye, Anderson Valley (California) Pinot Noir, Split Rail Vineyard 2014 ($84):  While plenty of wine drinkers love Pinot Noir, for others of us it might be more accurate to say that we love Pinot Noirs—plural--because we so much enjoy experiencing the different expressions of the grape from different regions and different vineyards within the same region.  Recently faced with six Pinot Noir wines from a very good Anderson Valley producer, in an exciting vintage and from several highly individual vineyards, I was right in my element.

The wines were from Goldeneye, the Anderson Valley outpost of The Duckhorn Wine Company, and the group’s Pinot Noir specialist winery.  Goldeneye produces six Pinot Noirs, of which five are entirely from estate fruit and four are single-vineyard bottlings.  The winery boasts 200 acres of vines planted with 24 Pinot Noir clones.  Over the years, I have enjoyed Goldeneye’s Pinot Noirs very much for their nuanced expression of Anderson Valley’s structured, savory style.

The wines were from 2014, a very fine vintage for Pinot Noir.  This vintage featured a dry growing season and early development of the fruit, with grape berries that were not oversized.  Critics who have tasted 2014 California Pinot Noirs more extensively than I are enthusiastic about their combination of ripeness and yet enlivening acidity.  In fact I enjoyed the Goldeneye 2014s more than any prior vintage.

The four single-vineyard Goldeneye 2014s formed the core of my tasting line-up, flanked by the winery’s 2014 Anderson Valley release ($56, made mainly from a blend of fruit from the estate’s various vineyards) and 2014 “Ten Degrees” ($120, the flagship wine, blended from the best lots of wine from across all the estate vineyards).  The four single vineyard wines showed fascinating variations in weight and in aroma and flavor characteristics.  When I last wrote about Goldeneye five vintages ago, Gowan Creek Vineyard was my favorite, but this time, the Split Rail Vineyard excelled.

“The defining qualities [of Split Rail Vineyard Pinot Noir] are structure and savoriness,” says Goldeneye winemaker Michael Accurso.  And that is precisely what differentiated this wine from the other three Pinots for me.  I found red fruits dominating the aroma and flavor more than the dark cherry and berry of some of the other wines.  The wine shows ripeness and fullness -- no doubt about it -- but the fresh, vivid red fruit character and the wine’s racy depth create an impression of lightness, freshness, energy and delineation.  Woodsy notes and a slight herbal/ tobacco hint accentuate that impression.  All four single-vineyard Goldeneye Pinots will reward aging, but the Split Rail vineyard perhaps all the more so.

The 2014 Confluence Vineyard Pinot Noir shows an energy and edge somewhat akin to the Split Rail, and a similar dominance of red fruit character -- here, tart cherry, strawberry and pomegranate.  It is the lightest of the four, with a fine-boned structure but concentration of fruit at its core.  This wine reflects earlier harvesting intended to highlight the red fruit vibrancy, and I love it.

The Narrows Vineyard 2014, from the winery’s northernmost site, just ten miles from the Ocean, shows beautiful fruit character of cherry, raspberry and plum.  But earthy notes such as mushroom, forest floor, and a piney accent undercut the fruitiness and bring subtlety to the wine.  It is as rich as any of the six wines and yet very different from them all.  This wine was the most mysterious to me, and the most challenging to pin down.

Finally, Gowan Creek Vineyard: a full, soft, rich, harmonious wine with dark fruit ripeness, a gorgeous Pinot Noir that I and many other wine lovers will happily drink.  But to my highly personal critical taste, in this vintage it is lacking in excitement in the context of the other three single vineyard Goldeneye Pinots. 

Although I am focusing on the single-vineyard wines, I am compelled to endorse 2014 Ten Degrees, the tiny-production wine that is a composite of the finest lots from the Goldeneye estate vineyards.  In a word, Wow!  This is a glorious Pinot Noir, full and rich and ripe, with all its elements working together to create a harmonious whole with enough uplift that your palate can “see” into the wine.  Everything I liked about each of the single-vineyard Pinots?  It’s here, within this wine.

Split Rail Vineyard, 93 Points
Confluence Vineyard, 92 Points
The Narrows Vineyard, 92 Points
Gowan Creek Vineyard, 90 Points
Ten Degrees, 95 Points